Family calls for independent investigation of Visalia PD K9 Unit after mauling of intellectually disabled man – city and officers are also hit with federal civil rights lawsuit

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VISALIA, CALIF., March 1, 2021 – An intellectually disabled man suffered severe bite wounds and psychological damage after Visalia Police set a K9 on him during an unlawful arrest on Jan 22, 2020, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday.

As a result of the officers’ misconduct, which included slamming him to the ground and beating his head with a heavy flashlight, Raymond Rubio suffered a traumatic brain injury, and deep bite wounds to his back, torso, left hand and arm, the lawsuit says. He now suffers from depression, memory loss, heightened paranoia, headaches and other mental and emotional injuries, as well as physical scars, resulting from the attack, according to the lawsuit.

The federal civil rights lawsuit comes just months after a video emerged in October showing a Visalia K9 biting a schizophrenic man’s face after the man’s mother called 911 seeking officers’ help in getting him medical assistance. Also in October, Visalia Police again arrested a former member of the city’s K9 unit on suspicion of domestic violence — the second time in six months. The 16-year department veteran left the city’s employ in May 2020 for undisclosed reasons.

Above: V. James DeSimone Press Conference in Civil Rights Case of Rubio vs. City of Visalia. He explains how the police officers and their K-9 used unnecessary, excessive force constituting police brutality and the impact this misconduct had on his client.

“This inexcusable disregard for, and abuse of, the rights of the mentally ill by Visalia Police will not stop unless there is an independent investigation into the city’s K9 unit,” said V. James DeSimone, the Marina del Rey, Calif., civil rights attorney representing Rubio. “The city is well aware of deficiencies in its training, yet the excessive force and use of dogs to attack citizens without legal cause continues to threaten anyone, and even more so to those whose mental illness prevents them from immediately processing orders to comply.”

Named in the lawsuit is Visalia K9 Officer William Hansen, the handler of Roto, the male Belgian Malinois used against Rubio. Belgian Malinois have some of the strongest bites among all dogs — about 195 psi of bite pressure, more than enough to break bone.

The city and Officer Marisa Burkdoll are also named in the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.

“Raymond isn’t the type of person who is violent, and he did nothing to justify being attacked,” DeSimone said.

According to the lawsuit, Rubio was walking through an open section of the Save Mart parking lot at 5203 W. Walnut St., across the street from his home, when Burkdoll confronted him saying she’d received calls about suspicious activity. Rubio denied her assertion that he was “looking into cars” and observed that his race was a likely reason he was being targeted.

Officer Hansen arrived at the scene just before Burkdoll asked Rubio to remove his backpack. He asked why and as he began to comply the officers grabbed him, threw him to the ground. Burkdoll started clubbing him in his head with her flashlight and beating him with her fist, the lawsuit states.

As Rubio helplessly held his hands up asking “what did I do,” Hansen stopped assisting Burkdoll to retrieve his dog and set him loose on Rubio, who was already prone, on his stomach, and not resisting, the lawsuit states. The dog bit Rubio for more than 90 seconds, while Burkdoll continued beating him, even though Rubio was complying and entirely within the officers’ control, the lawsuit states.

“These officers should be disciplined and fired. This is exactly the opposite of how police should de-escalate,” DeSimone said. “It’s outrageous how they don’t give him the slightest chance to comply before they unleash this unjustified violence and the cruel way they kept the dog biting him.”

A copy of the electronically filed lawsuit, bodycam video of the unlawful arrest, photographs of Rubio’s injuries, and photos of Burkdoll, Hansen and Roto are here:

 Los Angeles civil rights attorney V. James DeSimone has dedicated his 35-year law career to providing vigorous and ethical representation to achieve justice for those whose civil and constitutional rights are violated.

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